Far from being undesirable pests, many of our most common weeds are wonderfully nutritious and naturally healing
As much as we’ve developed a love of soft, green lawns and manicured gardens, nature’s preference is diversity. Many common garden weeds have long, deep roots, to bring up nutrients, and nourish and stabilise the topsoil so that native species of shrubs and trees can thrive. This is why they are so hard to kill. You may think you’ve pulled up that dandelion root but you have only scratched the surface. So many of our common garden weeds are really just doing their job.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t remove them. But if you do, why not use them? Most of our common garden weeds are some of our best medicines and delicious too! Here are some clever ways to use three of the most common weeds you’ll find growing in your garden.
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinalis). Ah, lovely dandelion. How can anything that looks like drops of sunlight be ugly? This beautiful but persistent plant is also one of the most useful. Every part of the dandelion is edible – the root, the leaves, the stalks and the flowers. It’s packed full of vitamins and minerals, including potassium, magnesium and vitamins A, C and E. Medicinally, it lowers blood pressure and cholesterol, and has long been used as a diuretic. The leaves and root are a gentle but effective liver tonic, helping our livers to do their job better and, in the process, improving digestion, skin health, easing PMS symptoms and more.
Dock (Rumex crispus and R. obtusifolius). You might be familiar with the cultivated relative of the dock leaf – sorrel – and how delicious it can be in spring dishes. But there is no need to grow it because early leaves of curly/yellow dock (R. crispus) have a similar flavour and can be used in all your favourite recipes in place of sorrel. The root, which has a slight yellow colour, is a gentle liver tonic and mild laxative. Leaves of dock are high in oxalic acid and should be eaten cooked.
Plantain (Plantago major and P. lanceolata). One of the best plant medicines is growing right under your feet! This plant is commonly found in Irish lawns and gardens and is a medicinal powerhouse. Plantain (not to be confused with the banana relative of the same name) is highly antibacterial and anti-fungal and effective against some of our toughest bugs, including Staphylococcus aureus and Streptococcus spp. It is a powerful wound healer and can be applied directly to cuts and scrapes or made into a healing salve. It’s also excellent for skin conditions and can be applied externally to eczema, psoriasis, contact dermatitis, and any other skin irritation or rash. Plantain helps to ease bee and nettle stings, insect bites and so much more.
Words by Erin Smith, founder and director of the Center for Integrative Botanical Studies based in Boulder, Colorado.
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